Stephan von Huene (1932–2000) was one of the founders of sound and media art in the 20th century. Born in Los Angeles as son of German immigrants, the artist has been constructing complex acoustic and kinetic installations since the late 1960s, in which he explored specific characteristics of sound and language.
In his complicated mechanical and technical sculptures, which he frequently referred to as ‘machines,’ he investigated acoustic phenomena and the functioning of perception based on his preoccupation with the findings of linguistics and behavioral research. As a unique crossover artist treading the fine line between art and science, the artist, who has lived in Hamburg since the 1980s, over time expanded his sculptures and objects, which were first reminiscent of automatic music instruments, into interactive sound installations that eventually also included drawings and projections.
In the works »What's wrong with Art?«, »Blaue Bücher« [Blue Books] and »Eingangsfragen – Ausgangsfragen« [Entry Questions – Exit Questions] from the late 1990s, which are shown in the exhibition at ZKM, Stephan von Huene explores different modes of speaking about art. The works depict the mistakes and misunderstandings of the audience and contrast their speechlessness with the intellectual speech bubbles and the pompous language style of art criticism, art education and art history. Without making judgements, Stephan von Huene pleads with his critique of language for a linguistically adequate and unbiased approach to art.
During the last years of his life Stephan von Huene was closely connected with Karlsruhe, both as an artist and as a teacher. In 1992 he was awarded the Siemens Media Art Prize of the ZKM, and from 1992 to 1997 he taught at the Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design (HfG). Since its foundation his works have been exhibited at the ZKM in numerous solo and group shows; currently, the installation »TischTänzer« [Table Dancer] (1988–1993) and the sculpture »Greetings« (1996) can be seen in the exhibition »Writing the History of the Future«. The sound installation »Blaue Bücher« [Blue Books] was acquired by the ZKM in 2015 for its collection with financial support from the Kulturstiftung der Länder, the Cultural Foundation of the German Federal States. Further key artworks as well as large parts of his estate and his library were donated to the ZKM. This makes the ZKM the most important place for preserving and researching the oeuvre of this »artist with a pioneering spirit« (György Ligeti).
The exhibition is accompanied by a publication edited by Peter Weibel and Philipp Ziegler with an essay by Yannis Hadjinicolaou on the works shown by Stephan von Huene.